Vera – for that’s what she was calling herself this century – sat down and regretted everything.
She regretted signing up for that dating service on a whim, and responding to Dave or Dan or whoever’s message, and agreeing to come here. Oh and she regretted that deal with the elder gods which started all this, but she’d spent her first millennium stewing over that, so why waste more time on something she knew she couldn’t change?
Although, she thought, as she played with the silverware on the table, time is all I have. All I’ve ever had, and all I ever will have…So what’s the point of making small talk with some software development bro when he’ll end up dying just like everyone else? I’ll be all alone when the universe collapses back in on itself, so I might as well be alone now.
The knife slipped from her hand, clanging into the fork. The other diners stared at her, and her cheeks grew hot. She scraped her chair back and stood just as a man appeared at her side.
“Yes,” she said, avoiding his gaze. “You must be Dean.”
“Dave. Are you…leaving?”
“Yeah,” she said, still looking at her shoes. “I’ve made a mistake, I shouldn’t have come.”
“Oh…Well, I don’t want to force you, of course. I understand.”
She had been in this plane of existence long enough to recognize genuine compassion – a rare thing indeed – and when she heard it in his voice, she looked up. He faltered under the force of her clear grey eyes. Eyes that had seen loved ones born and die, that had seen empires fall and new ones rise to take their place. Eyes that had seen the worst cruelties of the world, and not enough of its kindness.
Most mortals quailed under her direct gaze – she had frightened off more than a few postal workers and pizza delivery guys in the last century – but Dave? He recovered quicker than most. In fact he seemed to brighten and grow taller, like a plant turning towards the sun.
Perhaps this wasn’t a mistake…
“Shall we?” he said, holding her chair out for her.
After the waiter came to take their drinks order, Dave opened his menu, giving her some time to compose herself.
She turned her keen eyes on him and judged from his collared shirt, neat fingernails and smart wristwatch that he had sharp tastes. But his twitching leg and darting brown eyes – which were scanning the menu but taking nothing in – told her that he was nervous. He wasn’t used to this sort of thing either.
Well how about that, she thought, something in common! Another rare thing indeed.
“I’m guessing you don’t go on many blind dates, then?” she asked.
He stopped twitching and looked up. “It’s that obvious, huh?”
She shrugged. “Just a little. But not to worry, I don’t either.”
Especially after that time Daisy tried to set me up with someone in 1922…
He turned back to his menu, but not before taking in her short bottle-blonde hair and biker jacket. Cliché as they were, they made her feel more confident, like she was allowed to take up space and exist in a world where she defied all the laws of nature.
The waiter returned to take their food order, but she hadn’t even glanced at the menu. She peered over it to size Dave up again, searching for any other revealing details, when she spotted his cuff-links. They were novelty ones, in the shape of 20-sided dice. Her grey eyes lit up.
Dave noticed and lifted one of his wrists. “Do you play?”
“I haven’t in a long time,” – probably before you were born, she thought with a slight cringe – “but I love it. Who wouldn’t want the chance to be someone else for a while, to inhabit another world?”
He nodded. “I like that about reading too.”
“True, although I love the role-playing aspect to D&D. There’s something about a fantasy world full of weirdos and magic I find appealing.”
“This world can be pretty magical sometimes,” he said, holding her gaze.
She cursed her normally iron-clad self-control for failing her again as a flush crept up her face.
“Well it’s full of weirdos too,” she said.
He laughed, and his smile brought one to her face.
“Aha,” he cried, making her jump. “A smile! I was afraid I was making you completely miserable.”
He chuckled. “Well that’s something then.”
The waiter returned, and they finally ordered. They made small talk about her photography business (the technology had always fascinated her ever since it was invented), and his programming job for a NASA sub-contractor. His mind seemed to work quicker than his mouth as ideas tumbled out of him for various designs and programs to launch humans into the future. She sat with her chin resting on her hand, happily listening to him dream about the next century. She spent most of her days lost in the fog-wrapped sadness of the past, so it was as bracing as a lungful of winter air to hear someone so enraptured by humanity’s future among the stars.
“I’m sorry, I’ll stop boring you with my hare-brained schemes,” he said.
“No, please, it’s fascinating. I bet you’re the Dungeon Master for your D&D campaigns, devising intricate plot lines for everyone.”
It was his turn to blush now, and his warm brown skin glowed in the afternoon light.
“I was DM once, but my buddies voted me out because my plot lines were too intricate!”
“It’s a delicate balance,” she said, tucking into their food as the waiter brought it. “I love being the DM though. Having all that power? Being able to shape destinies?”
He chuckled. “Actually, my friends and I were going to start a new campaign tonight. You should join us.”
Joy flooded through her as it hadn’t done in years. Her first reaction was to refuse, and a dozen of her typical excuses were ready and waiting to be deployed – but instead, she accepted.
“I would love that.”
“You can be the DM!” he said, looking equally as excited. Then he paused. “You seem like someone with a lot of stories to tell…”
Fear quelled the rush of joy. She felt the pull then, deep in her gut, telling her to run, to push him away before he got too close and she hurt him, just as she’d hurt all the others. But his smile, his kindness, his wry humor, his optimism – she knew it could be decades before she met someone like him again. It had already been decades since her last love.
Then her intuition told her, just as it had all the other times, that she would love him and he would love her, and she would tell him her secret, but he would understand, and love her all the more. And when his time came she would be there for him, if he wanted her to be. She would watch him pass to the other side, her heart aching to go with him, to dissolve, to become nothing and find peace in that nothingness.
And though the pain and grief would follow, she would not regret loving him. For was it not better to love and lose than to fill endless days with regret?
She came back to the present to find Dave glaring intently at the flower vase on their table – exactly where she had been staring while lost in thought. His twinkling eyes flicked up to her, then back at the vase.
“I thought if I stared hard enough at it, I too would learn the secrets of the universe.”
She laughed again, and realized how much she had missed the feeling. “Sorry, I was miles away, scheming up devilish things for you and your comrades to face in your new campaign.”
“Excellent,” he said, grinning and digging into his food again. “I’m so ready for a good adventure. They’re a rare thing indeed.”
Her grey eyes blazed with joy. Yes, her heart cried, once more in tune with her intuition.
Yes they are.